The next European mission in Ukraine is on the home front

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Six months after Russia invaded its neighbor, the democratic world came together to support Ukraine’s self-defense and impose sanctions on Vladimir Putin and his enablers. Yet that hasn’t stopped the bloodshed – and Putin is betting Western unity will crumble as winter sets in and Europeans find themselves squeezed in by food and drink prices. ‘energy. To prove him wrong, European leaders will need to prepare their publics for a protracted war and increase support for those least able to bear the costs.

In the United States and Europe, public opinion has overwhelmingly supported efforts to help Ukraine resist Putin’s aggression, but that resolve is likely to fade as the war drags on. In a May poll of 10 European countries, 42% of respondents said their governments paid too much attention to Ukraine compared to their problems; in Romania and Poland, two frontline countries, this figure is over 50%. Europeans rank the rising cost of living and energy prices at the top of their war concerns, alongside the use of nuclear weapons. In Germany, a Forsa survey in July found that support for a boycott of Russian gas, a key way to pressure the Kremlin, had fallen to just under a third of respondents, down from 44% six weeks earlier.

To overcome war fatigue, European leaders must clarify their objectives in Ukraine. While the priorities of different governments will inevitably vary, there should be broad agreement around a few fundamental goals: defending Ukraine’s democratically elected leadership and self-determination; hold Russian forces accountable for war crimes; and avoid any ceasefire that would make Ukraine vulnerable to further Russian aggression. At a minimum, Europe will have to maintain the current sanctions against the Kremlin and continue to provide economic assistance to Ukraine for months to come.

To their credit, European leaders have so far ruled out any easing of sanctions against Russia, but more should be done to address public reluctance. Policymakers should stress that helping Ukraine is in Europe’s interest, because allowing Putin to win will embolden not only the Kremlin, but other autocrats with revengeful ambitions. And they should counter Russian misinformation about alleged flaws in Western policy by doing more to highlight its successes – including weakening the Russian economy, thwarting Putin’s efforts to replace President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with a puppet leader and increasing the size and strength of NATO.

It is equally important that Western governments communicate honestly about the potential pain ahead. The impact on disposable income has been uneven, but the International Monetary Fund estimates an average increase in the cost of living for European households at almost 7% of consumption in 2022.

As Russia cuts gas supplies – and threatens to shut them down altogether – the situation is not improving and European consumers are facing a dark winter. The UK is bracing for staged blackouts. While everyone will suffer, governments should focus their aid on those most at risk. Targeted income support for the poor is a more cost-effective approach than tax cuts and price controls, which will not incentivize families to reduce consumption or invest in increased efficiency.

Above all, European leaders must urge patience. The moral outrage and solidarity of Western public opinion has bolstered Ukraine’s morale and helped its forces resist the Russian onslaught. But the fight to preserve the country’s freedom will not stop anytime soon.

More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

• Europe not prepared for Putin’s militarized winter: Maria Tadeo

• Oil demand forecasts are not as optimistic as they seem: Julian Lee

• On the energy markets, Putin wins the war: Javier Blas

The editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

Mary I. Bruner